Sugababes prove that pop-acts can make for great headliners

Cornbury Music Festival 2009 review

published: Thu 16th Jul 2009

Sugababes

Saturday 11th to Sunday 12th July 2009
Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, OX7 3EH, England MAP
weekend £90 adult, £45 child (u-16); camping £20 extra; day £55 adult, £27.50 child; OAPs Free
last updated: Thu 11th Jun 2009

Well it rained all night but the morning starts with bright skies before descending into drizzle just as we’re about to set off to the main stage. However that turns out to be the lot for the rain, and with plenty of sun across the rest of the day there’s a few lobsters and various other peely-skinned people at Cornbury 2009 come the end of Sunday. Sunday also keeps up the strong standard of music with discoveries and more 'never thought I liked them' moments.

The first act of the day are Contraband on The Riverside stage for local acts. They like their rock, they have a singer looking too much like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith for that early in the day, but I'm sure they'd go down a treat in a sweaty pub of an evening. They have to make do with a calm crowd of people on the stage's makeshift straw-bale seats and that's despite all the pouting and flailing of the bare-chested singer in tight zebra-stripe trousers with the voice of Brian Molko. The songs are a little morbid perhaps, with titles like 'Cold', 'Devil's Soul' (about being in love with a hooker, apparently) and 'Fallen Angel', and the extensively foreboding bass rumble sometimes lacks any significant tune, but for those who like to be given rock instead of muesli for breakfast it's a fine start. Indeed, my eldest enquires later on at the CD stall for a Contraband album, most impressed is he.

Stornoway
In contrast, Stornoway are nicely at the folk end of an aspiring Coldplay act. They open The Oxford Folk Festival stage that deals in worldy-folk today. They're missing a drummer and a trumpet-player it seems, but as it goes the lead singer/guitarist handles a fair bit himself with backing from the band playing a variety of instruments. He has at points the voice of Martin Carthy and appears thoroughly earnest. I remain of the opinion that they're ones to watch, having seen them pull off a fine set at Glastonbury a couple of weeks beforehand, and they do indeed attract a strong element of seated admirers as their set takes its people dancing, and it's quieter or anthemic songs like current single 'Zorbing' that most impress.

3 Daft Monkeys
We remain at this stage for next act 3 Daft Monkeys, favourites of mine for their fusion of crusty-folk anthems. Interestingly for me, I notice much more of their technical ability today what with it being an early set. Tim plays a foot-drum, a guitar, and either sings or blows a wind instrument, pretty much all the time. Athena seems to have to remind herself not to dance all around the stage all the time whilst fiddling away. Jamie only plays bass and has shares in looking mellow, but someone has to anchor the other two. It all works very nicely, and there's plenty of us jigging away to it all down the front as the back area gradually fills up. There's standard Monkey songs from their albums such as 'Human Nature', 'Paranoid Big Brother' and 'Faces'. There's chirpy chatter inbetween songs, such as about Adult Education Classes in witchcraft, only in their native Cornwall apparently, to introduce 'Astral Eyes'. There's also the standard but enjoyable crowd involvement of swaying for 'Social Vertigo' and clapping faster and faster for the closing 'Maximillian'. Pithily I think they didn't draw out the closing tracks as much as they usually do, but for the kids, teens, parents and anyone else in the wide-ranging crowd, it all seemed thoroughly enjoyable regardless. Good to see them go down well at yet another of their summer festival appearances.

Next it's the much-touted Imelda May for our first visit to the Main Stage today. She's already been on Later, and there’s clearly much anticipation in a fairly large crowd. She and her band come on and are clearly dressing to impress, to match the rockabilly nature of her music. However I also see Siouxsie Sioux in her mannerisms, which really does make for an interesting mix. We get songs such as 'Big Bad Handsome Man' that to my mind highlight an element of Patsy Cline in her voice and persona. There's also a Beatles cover, one that sounds the spitting image of Johnny Cash, and one that has the musical suaveness of a cool Jungle Book number. As expected for this style of music, there's prominent double-bass and brass on show, all tightly supporting the singer who seems to be much enjoying herself. Whether she'll be the next big thing, we wait to see, but a performance it was.

Lightning Seeds
We end up missing most of ex-Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader's folky set, but I note that she sings a touching and minimal cover of 'The Girl is Mine' whilst her band finish their soundcheck. Our loss here is the Lightning Seeds' gain, and unfortunately it's probably the only bad payoff of the weekend.

Whilst singer Ian Broudie has a perfect-pop voice on record, it's lacking power and occasionally tune today. This seems to matter not for the many who are there for the sing-along to many 90s hits such as 'Sense', 'Lucky You' and 'Sugar Coated Iceberg’'. But it matters to me and I do notice enough people leaving the front of the stage as the mid-section of the set drags through some lesser-known works. Additionally the songs are sometimes performed in a stripped-down manner, such as 'Life of Riley' lacking its distinctive high-pitched synth effects, replaced by a thuddy bass at its forefront. But again, many people clearly did like it, so what do I know? And yes, that football anthem is played, eventually, as an acoustic encore.

Mary Coughlan, back at the folk stage, is in contrast a revelation to me. She looks old enough to be everyone's Gran, but she dresses, acts and sings like she's had an amazingly eventful life and isn't stopping down that road yet. Dressed completely in black with very particular high heels, she has at times the most amazing voice, and also tales aplenty of the ups and downs of life with strong support from a similarly-weathered backing band. We get tales such as 'The House of Ill Repute', 'The Little Death' and 'A Thrill's a Thrill' plus banter about priests, swimsuits , Ireland, and freshly-sacked instrumentalists. Musically it's a pleasing mix of jazz, blues, rock and country, some upbeat and some downright maudlin. The set ends with a touching cover of 'I'd Rather Go Blind' that showcases the ability of the band to change from major to minor key effortlessly but complexly, and veers into 'Send in the Clowns' at its death. Then an impromptu encore duet with Eddie Reader cracks out 'These Boots Were Made For Walking' to maximum joy, dancing and clapping. Inspired!

Over at The Riverside Stage, we calm down to Lightnin Willy. They (or is it the moustached, cowboy-hatted good old boy playing lead guitar?) give us old-time blues and rock. One of them is just playing the mouth-organ, or Mississippi Saxophone as it's referred to. They don't get much of a crowd, but that's logistics of the festival in my opinion as they are plainly competent and enjoyable, and would go down nicely with a Southern Comfort or three. Song titles such as 'Look What Love Can Do' and 'The Little Things In Life' allow great amounts of riffing indulgence and onstage posing, but it's all good fun. We later catch the guitarist and mouth-organist playing a few additional numbers at the BBC Radio Oxford mini-tent, and it's clear they have humour up their sleeve to. Well worth checking out if you're an Oxfordshire local.

The Pretenders
We catch a little of The Pretenders' set. Nothing to do with biggest crowd of the weekend preventing them from appearing as no more than distant stick-insects, and the music was absolutely fine, so perhaps we were saving ourselves for later. We do catch 'Don't Get Me Wrong' and 'Stop Your Sobbing', the latter of which has a driven bass and sounds like ideal road music. They sound most presentable, and Ms Hynde's distinctive voice comes across very well live. They end with 'I'll Stand By You', which highlights the singer's vocal strength as it starts acoustically, so pulling at the heartstrings. It also features some lovely steel-guitar work as it progresses through an elongated ending, and so despite us missing a lot of their set, they sound like another cracking addition to the line-up.

As dusk settles, Sunday headliners Sugababes take to the stage along with a rocking backing band. 'Freak Like Me' and 'Round Round' are the big-hitting openers, and it's quickly apparent that the three singers are vocally and choreographically tight, despite endlessly changing of positions on stage. I'm reliably informed by our photographer that the singing is live, so fair play there as it sounds pitch-perfect. Cornbury therefore has bona-fide pop stars, arguably the most successful UK girl group of the 21st century, doing a fine job at their festival and keeping the crowd well-entertained.

Sugababes
'Show Me That You Love Me' is a Jackson 5 sound-alike, 'Too Lost in You' is off the Love Actually soundtrack, and 'Do It' is just a straightforward album track, but played consecutively in the middle of the set, the performance is nonetheless still interesting enough. Then it's back into hit-central with 'Hole in the Head' and a sassy cover of En Vogue's 'Don't Let Go' despite a fly apparently going up one of the girls' noses. 'Stronger' is an affecting song that showcases the warbly-improv abilities of one of the band. And I'm sure 'Red Dress' borrows nicely from Frankie's 'Relax' at points. An encore of 'Push The Button' really gets the crowd bouncing, 'Here Come The Girls' raises the intensity further, and they end with 'About You Now' to much applause.

It was a privileged performance of an act I'd never ordinarily choose to see, which is perhaps Cornbury's genius. The whole weekend showcased a variety of intriguing or downright excellent acts despite a line-up that didn't necessarily attract, so more power to Cornbury and well worth a weekend of anyone's time next year.

The Pretenders
review by: Clive Hoadley

photos by: Andy Pitt

Saturday 11th to Sunday 12th July 2009
Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire, OX7 3EH, England MAP
weekend £90 adult, £45 child (u-16); camping £20 extra; day £55 adult, £27.50 child; OAPs Free
last updated: Thu 11th Jun 2009


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